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How to Talk Ethics to Neanderthals

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1 How to Talk Ethics to Neanderthals
Jeff Thompson Romney Institute of Public Management Marriott School of Management Brigham Young University

2 agenda Topic 1: How we really make ethical judgments
Topic 2: Tips for talking ethics

3 rational ethics Rational ideal: philosophers tell us that morality is a matter of sound reasoning Do we meet this ideal? “Gut instinct” is often a precise moral compass So, why bother with moral reasoning?

4 the trolley A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people, but you can throw a switch that will turn the trolley onto a side track, where it will kill only one person. Will you throw the switch?

5 the trolley II A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people, but you can shove a man in front of the train, saving the five people but killing the man. Will you push the man?

6 organ transplant Five patients are dying from organ failure, but a doctor can save all five if she cuts up a sixth healthy patient, removes his organs, and distributes them to the other five, killing one but saving five. Is it permissible to do this?

7 responses YES throw the trolley switch 94% push the man 10%
do the transplants % YES

8 rational ethics Awareness of Moral Issue Ethical Judgment Ethical


10 impact of mood: dime study
helped did not help found dime did not find dime (isen & levein, 1972)

11 impact of situation: good samaritan study
degree of hurry low medium high percentage helping 63% 45% 10% more ethical if- just washed hands- in a clean room- smell baking bread or citrus scents (darley & batson 1973)

12 Tough questions How much of my judgment is emotion? What does it tell me? Would I make a different decision if I was in a different mood? Am I feeling too rushed to make a good judgment? How are social pressures shaping my judgment? Could I be wrong?

13 why bother with rationality?
“If people reflect on a moral issue before they are involved in it, they are more likely to behave in accordance with their consciences when that issue faces them in real life.” - Steven Sherman

14 Missed Dilemmas Parable of the Sadhu

15 How would you have persuaded Mr. McCoy?
contributing factors How would you have persuaded Mr. McCoy?

16 lion or fox?

17 methods of dissent Direct Dissent: “This is wrong!! I won’t do it!!”
Indirect Dissent: “I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about this. I wonder if there’s a better approach?” Appeals for Information: “I’m a bit confused. Can you help me understand why we need to do this?” Invoke Institutional Values: “How will this reflect on our commitment to _____?” Suggest a Creative Alternative: Creatively transcend the “tyranny of the either/or”

18 how do you learn to play the lion?

19 using moral language moral language... captures people’s attention
discourages disagreement creates a halo so what’s the bad news?

20 a mini-case a manager: “Six months ago we announced plans to establish an on-site day care center. We felt like this was the right thing to do—in fact I remember saying to a large group of employees, ‘We believe that companies have an obligation to help their employees, especially single parents, reduce the tension between work and family demands.”

21 the fallout “Boy, was I surprised by the flak. In my 30 years in HR I have never seen such a hostile reaction to a change of plans. The criticism was both harsh and personal. Employees made sweeping claims like, ‘I’ve worked here since college but now I’m starting to wonder if our leaders can be trusted,’ and, ‘If you break your promise in this area, what lies will you tell us next time?’… I guess we just underestimated how sensitive people are about the well-being of their kids.”

22 perils of moral language
gets issues on the agenda, but then leaves them unmanageable limits opportunity for compromise, negotiation may set the bar too high (“if you lead rhetorically with your principles, inevitably you look like a hypocrite”) creates defensiveness, counter-moralization

23 an alternative to moralizing
...manage “moral intensity” (likelihood that an issue will be naturally be viewed as a moral one) In other words, frame the issue so people have to consider ethical implications

24 what makes an issue morally intense?
Magnitude of consequences show extent of potential harm (or gain) emphasize likelihood of harm (or gain) Probability of effect Temporal immediacy show consequences are impending identify specific set of individual victims Concentration of effect identify nearby potential victims Proximity link to areas of broad agreement Social consensus

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